Georgia Advocates Pledge to Continue Efforts to Change Georgia Death Penalty Statute In Light of Today’s U.S. Supreme Court Denial of Warren Hill Case
For Immediate Release
Advocates Cite Urgent Need to Strengthen Legal Protection for Georgians with Intellectual Disability
ATLANTA, October 7, 2013 – The Supreme Court of the United States today denied an appeal by attorneys for Warren Hill, a Georgia death row prisoner. Attorneys say that Mr. Hill's intellectual disability makes him ineligible for the death penalty under the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Akins v. Virginia, which banned capital punishment for persons with "mental retardation," now known as intellectual disability. Georgia-based disability advocates were disappointed by the ruling but promised to continue efforts to change the death penalty law in Georgia so that those with intellectual disabilities no longer face execution.
Mr. Hill's case contains crucial new information which has been procedurally barred from being considered in any court:
- All doctors who have examined Mr. Hill concur that he has mental retardation.
- Three state doctors who testified in 2000 that Mr. Hill did not have mental retardation have now reviewed all available materials and submitted sworn affidavits revising their diagnosis to affirm that he does have mental retardation.
Georgia has the most stringent standard in the nation for proving intellectual disability, requiring defendants to prove their disability "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Coalition members working to change the Georgia law include All About Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), The ARC of Georgia and The Georgia Advocacy Office.
"It is the unanimous consensus of doctors who have examined him that Warren Hill is a man with intellectual disability," said Kathy Keeley, executive director of All About Developmental Disabilities. "Mr. Hill should not be at risk for execution by the state of Georgia. He is now procedurally barred from showing the extensive evidence of his medical condition. Georgia should change its standard for proof of intellectual disability and ensure that all citizens with intellectual disability receive their full constitutional rights. "
Eric Jacobson with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities said: "We are extremely disappointed the Supreme Court failed to uphold the protection for some of our nation's most vulnerable citizens as provided by its own decision more than 10 years ago. It's completely untenable that Warren Hill could now be put to death basically on a technicality because the courts won't acknowledge a mistake was made and rectify the situation. As a disability community, we will continue to push to get the "beyond a reasonable doubt" language changed in Georgia. This must not happen again."
Statement from Warren Hill Attorney Brian Kammer:
"We are gravely disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to act to ensure the protection for persons with intellectual disability that was promised by the Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia," said Brian Kammer, attorney for Warren Hill. "'It is the unanimous opinion of all doctors who have examined him that Mr. Hill is a person with mental retardation. However, Mr. Hill has been procedurally barred from proving his exemption from capital punishment, which is why he brought his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the hopes that the Court would ensure that the evidence of his intellectual disability would be heard.
Kammer added: "It is tragic that our highest court has failed to enforce its own command that persons with mental retardation are categorically ineligible for the death penalty."
Survey: Georgians Favor Changes to Death Penalty Law
The results of a recent survey show that the majority of Georgians believe that people with intellectual disabilities should NOT face execution.
- Results also show that Georgians are unaware that our state is the only one in the nation requiring that defendants prove intellectual disabilities "beyond a reasonable doubt," rather than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard used by all other states.
- Most Georgians surveyed favor changing the language of the law during the next legislative session.
The Georgia Legislature is planning to implement a study group on October 24 to review the state's death penalty law. The law would only take two small paragraphs to change our burden of proof and thus prohibit those with intellectual disabilities from being executed.
Warren Hill has an IQ of just 70. He is one of several on Georgia's death row who meet the standard for intellectual disability in every state except Georgia. Three doctors, who had previously testified on behalf of the state, now concur with all other doctors and agree that Hill is mentally retarded and that their evaluation of him more than a decade ago was mistaken.
Background on the Death Penalty in Georgia
- The U.S. Supreme Court -- in the landmark Atkins v. Virginia decision in 2002 -- found that persons with intellectual disabilities require a categorical exemption from the death penalty.
- People with intellectual disabilities experience many challenges when they come in contact with the judicial system. Often attorneys and others involved in the judicial process don't even recognize that a person has a disability. Intellectual disabilities are rarely identified at the time of arrest, questioning or arraignment. Only ten percent are identified even at trial.
- The diagnosis is often not identified until the person is in prison or on death row. This late identification of the disability can have dire outcomes, including death.
- In 1988, Georgia was the first state to prohibit the execution of persons with intellectual developmental disabilities, impelled by mass outrage at the execution of a mildly mentally retarded prisoner named Jerome Bowden in 1986.